A little domestic strife

THE Philippines Consul General is letting off more steam than a jeepney which has crashed into a brick wall.

It has become known that The Royal Hongkong Jockey Club has ruled that maids - an unavoidable synonym these days for Filipinas - will only be allowed into the Club with their employers or while escorting their employers' children when the little ankle-biters have urgent business to conduct there.

Even then, the maids will be restricted to designated areas.

I was puzzled by the offence taken. Given that the Jockey Club has 30,000 members and that they are the sort of people who have a maid for every free-standing pot plant, if the maids had the run of the place, then the members would have as much chance ofsqueezing on to the premises as they would into The Kingdom of Heaven.

Curious to see if other major clubs in Hongkong did as much, more or less for domestics than the Jockey Club, I asked 10 of them their policy. Three provided as much, but not much more, than the Jockey Club, three had no experience of the problem, and four barred members' domestic servants outright.

Beginning in my own back yard, at The Foreign Correspondents' Club (FCC) - where I am a board member - I asked a spokesman: myself. ''Our membership is more of the 'woman-that-comes-in-and-does' type,'' I said. ''Those with maids are reluctant to bring them, anyway. It is a sign that the marriage is heading for the rocks. The reason for bringing maids is invariably children, and you would rather lock your child in the wardrobe with the bogeyman than take it to the FCC.'' Looking up the hill, I called that depository of sensible shoes, the Ladies' Recreation Club. An English secretary dealt with me as though she had just come out of karate class. Were maids allowed in at all? ''No, not at all.'' What about children? ''They do have their own area, down there.'' Between the car park and the incinerator, perhaps? ''Under 10, they must be accompanied by an adult. Over that they can go around alone.'' I moved quickly on.

The town dining clubs have no experience of maids and children. ''Suits'' don't take them to lunch. Mr Trevor Allen of The Pacific Club thought they might be acceptable in his Chinese restaurant on Saturday lunchtimes. Mr John Pelling of The Hongkong Club seemed to have heard of neither. ''They don't arise. There is no policy.'' I felt an imminent fear of blackballing by telephone and rang off.

Later, I heard Mr John Edwards, general manager of the Royal Hongkong Yacht Club, explain why servants were not allowed in. ''We are sometimes criticised for this, but I think it is quite right. It is simply a matter of geography: there would be nowhere left to sit.

''Sometimes we have a couple who both sail and want to leave the child at the club with the amah and we do have a bit of an argument about this. On the other hand, we do encourage youth here enormously. We have a cadet membership for the over 12s. After all, you need a young lad on the foredeck.'' Quite.

''I do make exceptions under the by-laws,'' admitted Mr Edwards. ''If a member's child wants to attend morning swimming lessons and can only be brought by the amah, I will issue her a chit.'' That swimming lessons may be missed by children is a recurrent anxiety among the clubs. More than one relaxes by-laws to allow maids to sit somewhere - even eat and drink in the coffee shop - so that the little ones may swim.

Pool-deprivation generally is the phobia of the '90s. It is the fear that members may not get close to it which banishes maids in attendance from its rim.

''Members who pay a lot to join don't want to find that they are lying at the pool next to next door's maid,'' said Mr Malcolm Davies of the Football Club.

''We allow no personal servants - period,'' said Mr Richard Ross, general manager of the American Clubs - Exchange Square and Tai Tam. ''We make occasional exceptions; for handicapped people, single-parent families. Otherwise, we make it simple. This, after all, is a membership club.'' The Country Club at Deep Water Bay aims to please everyone. New manager Mr Sandy McAllister and outgoing manager Mr Michael Forsythe both insist on a policy of the ''In-Between Way'' on maids and their charges.

Maids are allowed in the Country Club in an ''elegant'' system of dedicated seating areas that are not obviously the armpit of the premises. ''We recognise that full-time maids have taken on an element of the parental role,'' said Mr Forsythe. The successful clubs in Hongkong are those that recognise changes in society, he believes.

''We look after the maids - and the drivers and the nannies. There are areas where they can go and they cannot go. The staff are well trained to assess a situation and handle it with delicacy - not jackboots. That is the success of any club operation. Bythe way, any club manager in Hongkong these days should be very careful about who his staff thinks is a maid. There is an awful lot of mixed marriages in a club like ours.'' That seems to be a problem that Mr Davies has come across. There, they seem to run the eternal risk of not knowing who is a member and who is a maid.

''I had two women members once, by the pool, looking at a third in pyjamas. 'She's a maid,' they said. 'Shouldn't be there.' So I walked up to her and she turns out to be the wife of a multi-million dollar debenture member. We have 20 Filipina spouse members.'' A subject that presents itself as eggshells to some managements, Mr Davies treads with the firmness of a man who knows his heart and feet are in the right place. ''There are three rules common to all clubs: no mobile phones; no servants; and no pets. Some of them actually try and bring dogs in, you know.

''I persuaded them to relax the servants by-law because members' children want to attend the swimming lessons and there is no-one to bring them otherwise.

''So we have a designated area now. Somewhere they can wait for the children under cover.'' Member and maid confusions arise again though. ''Some of the soccer player members think that's racial discrimination. Mind you, they go out with the girls later down Wan Chai.

''Some family members don't help either. They try to get the maid in round the pool by saying she is a family friend. In some cases, she is as well. It's very hard sometimes.'' Far from the social cauldron of the Football Club, you could hear a pin drop at the halcyon moorings of the Aberdeen Marina Club. The manager was so new, I was told, that he was still adjusting himself to the details of paradise. I set a course instead for the public relations manager, Ms Maria Leung.

For real cool, Ms Leung can take my helm any day. Of course the maids brought the children to the sacred swimming lessons and dallied cheerily afterwards with them in the coffee shop. Yes, they could come in with their masters and mistresses and sit by the pool, but this was unheard of.

Ms Leung gave a little laugh that could tame a tempest. If they were in the club, they would be in the kiddie holding areas. If not they would be on their day off, of course! They never sat by the pool. Members educated their maids at Aberdeen Marina.

And the children pay for them. Whoever is buying the coffee and doughnuts after the sacred swim, it is not Consuela. She can have no signing rights. On their parents' accounts the children can - from the age of eight.

At the Fanling Golf Club, where no maids are permitted - not even as eye-candy caddies - I was told that signing rights on the parental account began at six years old.

Deliciously unsupervised by Daddy, who is on the tenth hole, and Mummy, who is on the ''pro'', young Master Timothy - six years and four months - stands tall at the pool bar on tiptoe and nudges his chit over its edge. ''Ah-Fai, a dry martini with a twist of lemon for me and a screwdriver for my kid sister in the stroller. No ice, she's teething.'' Perhaps Consuela is needed up there after all. What do you think, Consul?